A Wellcome round-up to the research week

While the Home Office struggles to recover from its Nutt allergy the rest of us have been busy funding and promoting good science.

Our communications officer, Sara, tells me that if I use more searchable terms in my blog headlines I will get more visitors.  ‘What, more than the million or so I receive each day?’ I said.  Anyway, that explains the all-things-to-all-people headline this week.  But, as ever, there is a purpose and I thought it would be interesting to do a sweep across  events and activities of the last seven days and pick those that are relevant to, or have even been driven by, charities.  Some have been in the news.  Some haven’t. 

I visited the NIHR website yesterday and noticed a news item announcing that a new ministerial group on dementia research has been set up with Phil Hope MP in the chair.  This follows the recent summit (see my blog for 22nd July ‘Sums and Summitry’) and the group’s aim will be to drive forward research in the field.  You may recall that the summit itself was a response to the persistent calls by Alzheimer’s and other neurological charities that Government needs to get serious about dementia research.  So this has got to be good news and it shows how charities – with their passion, energy and armed with some good facts – can move the agenda forward. 

Conversely, I was a little disappointed that NIHR have yet to offically news release their recent joint-report with INVOLVE on the impact on patient and public involvement (PPI) in research.  It’s on the INVOLVE site but not theirs.  The report is significant for two reasons.  First, because it adds to the evidence of how involvement can benefit science.  Second, because of the foreword from Sally Davies (Director of R&D at the Department of Health) in which she talks about PPI being the rule and not the exception in the funding of clinical research.  Now that’s a strong signal to the community if ever there was one.  Perhaps we are at last putting behind us the days when you might have been forgiven for thinking that science had an allergy to the very notion of involving patients.  And if you’re looking for further reading on the subject then please also look at AMRC’s ‘Natural Ground’ report on PPI activities by our members and launched at our AGM last month.  The foreword’s pretty good too.

Here in the office I have been monitoring assiduously – as is my nature being a Ceefax child –  the responses of AMRC members to our latest survey about the impact of the recession.  I’ve been encouraged not so much by any significant change in their forecast but by the very level-headed and ongoing commitment by charities to keep backing research come what may.   A third of those who have responded so far, indicate that they have entered into some form of collaborative activity to achieve this for instance.  But this is by no means the only strategy that organisations are employing.  We will report the results of the survey by the end of the year.

Meanwhile my email seems to have been swamped with messages this week about the recently announced European Commission consultation on the EU Clinical Trials Directive which came into law a few years ago.  The consultation closes in early January and its good that across academia and science there is a real desire to be on the ball in submitting responses and sharing evidence about the key issues.  Charities will have an important part to play in providing a patient perspective on the Directive. 

Just how important involving patients in research is to ensuring the right environment for science was highlighted to me when I attended a meeting of EU patient groups in London to discuss the whole clinical trials agenda.  What immediately struck me was the close relationship between funders, patients and academics in the UK compared to other EU countries in funding and promoting clinical trials and studies.  We still have a long way to go, but we also sometimes forget how far we have come.

Of course the big news this week has been the Wellcome Trust’s announcement yesterday about its change in funding strategy.  This is a significant move by the Trust and, at its most simplest, demonstrates the ability of research charities as independent funders to think innovatively and flexibly about the way in which they support science across the UK.  Given that Wellcome Trust is the largest research charity in the UK with considerable influence on the way by whichresearch is funded and advanced more generally, I was pleased to see their statements that they are committed to communicating proactively with researchers and others about the detail of the new Investigator Awards ahead of their introduction.  

Of course, one of the strengths of UK science is its diverse funding base and my sense is that all our members are constantly exploring how best they can support research of patient benefit and they will undoubtedly already be thinking about the opportunities arising out of Wellcome’s announcement.

By the way, the Times Higher piece yesterday was the best I have so far seen on the announcement and it includes an opinion piece from the Wellcome Trust’s Director, Mark Wallport.

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